From the moment I discovered the lump in my breast 18 months ago my focus became what was happening next. Writing brought clarity to what was happening to me in the present and helped to prepare me for each next step.

I handled things and I was determined that cancer was not going to take from me the things that mattered the most. By which I mean the joy I experience in life. I was clear that I would not allow the fear of cancer taking my life to stop me from living. That is true but I have come to realise over the last few weeks that my determination to do that that has become an obstacle to grieving properly for what happened to me.

I went for a walk on Friday to the beach with my dog. I was supposed to be meeting a friend for lunch but that had fallen through and it was a crisp clear day and a good one for the beach. As I was driving there I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness about dying that was wave like in intensity.

There had been a few incidents over the preceding week where I had been tearful and angry about events not connected with my illness but they became about my illness in the way I processed them. For example a woman was needlessly rude to me in a shop and I felt so angry and kept replaying the incident in my head for days. Why was she so rude? Why was I so angry? The first question I cannot answer but the second comes down to this. I felt angry at the woman because she doesn’t know how lucky she is. To not start the day by breathing deeply and wonder if the feeling in her lungs is in fact a tumour after all. Of course I know nothing about that woman’s life but I am living mine with this fear which pervades and permeates my day to day existence now. It is at the root of my decisions and I think about dying on a daily basis countless times.

At the beach on the shore and listening to the vast whisper of the ocean I felt marooned by my own sadness and grief, castaway by cancer to a place of isolation. My sorrow had found words but I had not experienced emotional pain like this since I was first diagnosed.

Alone at the beach it felt ok to cry. I don’t like the feeling of pain that comes with it although I know this is inside me still and that I need to process it, to feel it. I don’t feel like a survivor but I do feel battered by the intensity of what I have been through.

But castaways rely on their own ingenuity to survive. Perhaps in the process of doing that, of not just living, but living well I will discover new skills and find new ways of being that allow me to connect to this life.

This life with this woman in it who looks nothing like me! I need to make friends with her because I am in there somewhere and not lost at sea after all.

This is a poem I wrote about how I feel about the experience of having had cancer.


I never expected to find myself


At the beach.

But there I was, marooned by sorrow.

Isolated by grief.

I watched the crashing waves retreat

And the roar of the ocean

Became a whisper.

Alone on the island

I found a way to be.

It was small steps

First one then the other

Leaving footprints in the sand.

Marking my SOS.

I became my own shelter

I hunted; made a fire.

I survived.

Darkness came

And the night sky filled with stars

But I felt their light upon me; And I knew.

Morning broke

And the sun became a ball of fire.

High in the sky

Where there are no shadows.

And the ocean continued to whisper

And the gulls circled the air.

I had never been alone on the island.

When I found myself there.



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